I started my 200-hr yoga teacher training in Seward, Alaska inside of a men’s maximum security prison. About a year and a half later, I finished it in the comfort of my own home, in front of a gas-lit fireplace, on the same gold-colored yoga mat I had rolled out so many times in the back row of the Chapel inside Spring Creek Correctional. My cohort had changed drastically, though, and now consisted of 16 other (un-incarcerated) adults. The reason for this dramatic shift in venue? Everyone’s favorite pandemic and scapegoat: COVID-19. Yesterday, in a special meeting, the Anchorage assembly voted to end the city-wide mask mandate effective immediately. While masks are still “highly encouraged” for unvaccinated adults, I can’t help but ask myself some questions: What was all this for? And, more importantly, did anything really change… did we really learn anything from this experience? As always, the answers differ drastically depending on who you ask.
The countdown back to “normal” has been an obsession over the last year or so. I hear it all the time. The people have spoken and they want to know: When can we just get back to normal?
Yet the word “normal” means very different things to different people, no? Is mine the same as yours? Probably not. Do I even relate to the word “normal” anymore? Honestly, not really. Is it normal for me to have to wear a mask all day while I cook, sweating profusely, over a 375+ degree grill or slang beans on an espresso machine that expels 190 degree water? Not really. It’s also quite unpleasant and half the time I feel like I can’t breathe. But is it normal for our country to spend more money and resources on military than the next 12 nations combined when I haven’t had even the most basic access to affordable health care since I was a student at UAA in 2017? Yes. That portion is normal for our reality; with around 30 million americans uninsured in 2020, my story is hardly unique.
So I ask again. What does “normal” really mean and why are we so impatient to get back to it? Does packing ourselves into bars, restaurants, gyms and overpriced hot yoga classes distract us from the fact that the middle class is rapidly shrinking, old rich white men are still in charge after all this time and plastic bags will soon take over the world?
As for my yogic-related revelations I will share this one piece of my experience with you. You don’t, nor have you ever, had to fit into some sort of neat little box in order to practice yoga. You don’t need a tiny flexible body, the most expensive yogi-toes to cover your top-of-the-line mat, the perfect sports bra and legging combination or even an uninterrupted hour of time to dedicate to a sequence you so thoughtfully curated. Your practice is not limited to the time you spend on your mat; yesterday I practiced yoga on the grocery line at Carrs or while I was in the weeds on the grill at work. When I feel like I need to reset my mind, stretch or move through even the most basic of movements like a twist or forward fold I do just that: use whatever props I have for whatever I need at the time. You are permitted to stop overthinking it.
Just some light food for thought in these wild times we call the present. As the OG Jerry Springer said, “take care of yourselves and each other.”
Stay classy, Anchorage.